Transmitting Data Faster and Safer Online

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Every savvy Internet user understands that security is a top priority when sending information online.

Electrical engineering Professor Michael Vasilyev is doing his part to help make the Web safer by increasing by tenfold both the amount of information that can be securely transmitted and the distance it can travel. His research is part of an $8 million project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and led by Northwestern University to study advanced quantum communication.

There are all kinds of personal information—both among private citizens and public governments—that require the utmost security,” Dr. Vasilyev says. “Quantum communication offers the most rigorous solution for security because it employs the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics to enforce the exclusive link between the sender and receiver, with no chance of other people eavesdropping.”

Classical communication methods transmit information by “bits” that take values of either 1 or 0. In contrast, quantum communication uses quantum bits, or “qubits,” which can be 1, 0, or 1 and 0 simultaneously.

Current fast and secure quantum communications can only be sent short distances before the signal breaks down, because qubits can’t go through optical amplifiers—commonly used in classical communications—without losing their quantum-mechanical security advantages. So Vasilyev’s lab is encoding the information in spatial features or pixels of the photons that will be sent through multimode fiber-optic lines, thus dramatically increasing the amount of received data without jeopardizing security.

Project participants include the University of California, Davis; University of Calgary; Montana State University; Raytheon BBN Technologies; Advanced Communication Sciences; and NuCrypt LLC.

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